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Fashion Week Runs on Emerging Designers — But What Support Do They Get After?

How can young designers with limited resources build on the buzz of a successful show?

New York Fashion Week brings with it a lot of buzz: a front row dressed head-to-toe by the designer du jour, Instagram flooded with videos of final walks, editors rushing home post-show to file stories. But for designers still finding their footing in the industry, a show is more than just a spectacle. It can be a make-or-break moment involving a huge investment.

Given said investment, careful planning is key. Lindsey Solomon, the founder of the communications firm Lindsey Media, specializes in working with small, emerging brands in the early stages of their businesses, building up to the point where they want to present at fashion week. In New York, that starts by navigating the already fraught schedule, where shows are spread throughout two, maybe three boroughs and a time slot may have multiple events competing for RSVPs.

“I have to wait for the calendar to come out and position them appropriately at a time that won’t completely screw them over,” he says.

Still, on its own, well-received show is no guarantee of success — just look to the much-beloved presentations of now-defunct brands like Sies Marjan, Zac Posen or Cushniet et Ochs as proof. One could argue that the most crucial moments come after.

The final walk at Colin Locascio’s first-ever runway show, for Fall 2023, during New York Fashion Week.

Photo: Imaxtree

Once the slot on the schedule is locked, the seats are filled and a successful show has come and gone, Solomon works with designers to traffic samples and facilitate interviews. “Getting reviewed, that’s what they’re concerned about,” he says.

But while traditional media — a Vogue placement here, an Elle feature there — may help to increase a designer’s visibility, it doesn’t necessarily translate to direct sales. Ultimately, if a brand is unable to pay its own bills, a positive write-up doesn’t matter.

“The challenges emerging designers often face have to do with cash flow, production and logistics,” says Libby Page, Net-a-Porter‘s market director. “We aren’t short of creative minds and talent in the industry, but ensuring a stable backend is super important.”

The campaign for Net-a-Porter’s 2022 Vanguard.

Photo: Courtesy of Net-a-Porter

For emerging talent, building a business with limited resources means being forced to pick-and-choose how best to allocate said resources at any one time. Even if a show creates buzz, a designer may not be able to afford PR and marketing services to help build on it.

“What I run into as someone who works with emerging brands a lot: They have budget twice a year [during fashion week], but outside of that, they can’t afford even the most basic of my services,” Solomon says. He often finds himself in what he describes as an “awkward position,” working and advising when he’s not paid for it.

As brands work to navigate their needs on a tight budget, something like traditional PR may fall to the wayside in favor of online interactions, which can be coordinated with nothing more than a DM. Once clothes are in the hands of an influencer or celebrity, a selfie or paparazzi shot has the power to sell out an item or garner notice from a major retailer.

“I find the marketing, social media and lookbooks of a brand all play a crucial part in the storytelling,” says Page. “A strong visual identity is just as important [as the clothing].”

Net-a-Porter’s 2022 Vanguard.

Photo: Courtesy of Net-a-Porter

Stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom have long held floor space for up-and-coming designers, and increasingly, these have become mutually beneficial relationships: They set brands up with more structured partnerships, and allow retailers to get in early with the potential next big thing.

In an effort to build more of these types of relationships, Net-a-Porter launched its Vanguard program in 2018, and has gone on to spotlight designers like Peter Do and Christopher John Rogers. The aim has been to go beyond sales, mentoring them in everything from business development to social media over a two-year period. Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue have launched similar incubator programs (Radar and the Emerging Designer Accelerator Program, respectively) to highlight their emerging talent. So how to brands catch their attention?

For Page, working with emerging designers is part of ensuring Net-a-Porter’s long-term success within the industry, a way to continually evolve and offer the customer something new and unique. “It’s about finding a designer with a distinct brand DNA that makes them stand out from everything else we have on the site already,” she says.

Sukeina, which is sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Hampden Clothing, has approached retail partnerships in a way that imagines them beyond a simple exchange of goods and services. “We set the tone quite early on that we’re partnering towards something greater than each one of us separately,” says Omar Salam, the brand’s founder and creative director. “We’re not trying to just sell the dress. We hope that the dress is emulating into the world something greater than commerce.”

Coco Rocha backstage at Sukeina’s Fall 2023 show during New York Fashion Week.

Photo: Imaxtree

Salam argues that now, “more than ever, authenticity is going to become the greatest currency. Gen Z are requiring more than just a bow on a frock. They’re inquisitive and curious and want to know why. When there is nothing behind it, it doesn’t hold.”

That said, it’s not all about brand ethos and storytelling. Regarding her evaluation process, Page adds: “If the product is good, regardless of the buzz, our customers will love it, and that’s what we’re always thinking about.”

Brand founders should also evaluate what success means to them. For instance, not every designer inherently equates the words “success” and “longevity.” Salam sees Vera Wang, who launched her business in 1990 and is “creating with a verve,” as inspiration, as opposed to “houses that got bought because they wanted to tap out.”

Success, as he defines it, is not about money or building a name. “My question to myself and to the team is: As a result of being here, what can we solve, what can we inspire?”

Photo: Imaxtree

When there’s not a massive budget for influencer marketing and PR, it’s also especially important for brands to inspire authentic desire for their products.

Ultimately, it’s that authenticity that Salam sees bringing people organically to the brand. He doesn’t use the term “influencers,” but instead “amplifiers,” when referring to those who support his brand — a nod to the exponential reach of these people.

“We had women that while they’re the face of massive brands would turn around and buy a Sukeina dress,” he says. (Amal Clooney and Naomi Campbell have both worn the brand). “They were being paid to wear it elsewhere and were paying to wear it here, when we were a really really small brand.”

Finding support once the buzz of a fashion show has died down comes down to, in part, being able to create a unique vision and build a community around it. As can be seen with the continued success of brands like Telfar or Luar, a robust community of supporters can help to lift your profile and increase your appeal to potential collaborators.

Page sees an authentic vision as not only supporting the existing community, but also having the power to pull in an entirely new fandom. “When we launch an emerging designer with a strong story, we tell that to our customer, and that often keeps the momentum sustained,” she says.

Hopefully, it lasts forever — but if not, at least until fashion week rolls around again. 

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